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PHB, p. 195 says, under "Ranged Attacks in Close Combat":

Aiming a ranged attack is more difficult when a foe is next to you. When you make a ranged attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t incapacitated.

Based on the rules cited above, consider the following situation.

  • An invisible enemy is next to me.
  • I'm unaware of it and it doesn't make any attempt to make itself known.
  • I'm drawing my bow to attack a distant enemy.

In this situation, do I roll with disadvantage?

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The hostile creature imposes disadvantage regardless

Aiming a ranged attack is more difficult when a foe is next to you. When you make a ranged attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t incapacitated.

The "Ranged Attacks in Close Combat" rule does not let the hostile creature choose whether it wants to disrupt the ranged attacker. This rule assumes that the hostile creature always does its best to be hostile in combat, especially because this rule is risk-free. This is true even if the hostile creature wants to go unnoticed1.

Another way to look at it is that this rule defines a behavior common to all hostile creatures. If a DM wants a hostile creature to behave differently, they have two options: rule against RAW or rule that the creature is not hostile.

  • Ruling against RAW is totally fine, as long as you know what you're doing. I can't think of any far-reaching (or even close-reaching) consequences to ruling against RAW in this situation.
  • Ruling that a creature is not hostile comes with its own implications, so I do not recommend this course of action unless there are other compelling reasons.

1. The "Ranged Attacks in Close Combat" and "Hiding" rules do not conflict.
The closest thing to "I'm unaware of it and it doesn't make any attempt to make itself known" is "It's hidden from me and wants to stay hidden".

If you are hidden—both unseen and unheard—when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.

Whether the hostile creature is unseen, unheard, or both is of no consequence for the the "Ranged Attacks in Close Combat" rule. Moreover, the hostile creature is unseen because it is invisible and does not need to make attacks of its own to disrupt the ranged attacker.

The only question is whether the hostile creature can disrupt the ranged attacker silently. At first glance this may seem farfetched, but it can still be narrated plausibly. Lets consider two examples of silent disruptions:

  • Messing with the bow string, when the ranged attacker fires so that the shot is weak. The attacker assumes he didn't draw enough the first time, so he readjusts and that messes up his other attacks too.
  • Knocking an arrow away just before the ranged attacker fires. The attacker believes his fingers slipped and he fumbles through the following attacks.

Is it difficult for the hostile creature to perform those disruptions silently? Does it require good timing and a distracted ranged attacker? Yes, yes, and yes! But our assumption is that the hostile creature is hidden from the ranged attacker, which means they already had a perception vs stealth contest that accounts for these interactions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jul 2 at 19:18
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There are arguments either way for why the invisible enemy within 5 feet of you might or might not impose disadvantage on ranged attacks, and the GM is going to have to take into account the exact situation and make a call.

The rule you quoted:

Aiming a ranged attack is more difficult when a foe is next to you. When you make a ranged attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t incapacitated.

implies that the hostile creature is interfering with your ranged attack. While it doesn't say that explicitly, that seems like a reasonable interpretation.

But if the creature is doing nothing to interfere with the ranged attacker, then are they hostile? While their intent for lurking within 5 feet of you is probably not benevolent, if they are literally not doing anything, they're perhaps not hostile.

However, they're invisible, not undetectable. If you imagine that there's an invisible person standing within 5 feet of you right now (I know, creepy, right?), don't you feel like you might think something was up? Heat, air current, some faint noise, something?

There are enough variables going on in such a situation that I think the only clear ruling is that the GM is going to have to rule. Could go either way. The attacker perceives something strange, and it throws off their aim. Or they are completely unaware of the invisible person carrying a sword right behind them and they get their shot off.

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A "foe" is not well-defined, so RAW it can be both

The description is not very detailed:

Aiming a ranged attack is more difficult when a foe is next to you.

Its meaning depends on what "foe" is. There are many options:

  • a creature you are fighting with
  • a creature who acts like a foe
  • you think this creature is your foe
  • a creature thinks it is your foe
  • a creature has malicious intents
  • et cetera

"A creature who acts like a foe" seems reasonable — if the DM uses this interpretation, an invisible person who just stays near and doesn't do anything does not impose disadvantage, because it doesn't count as "foe".

Neither PHB nor DMG does not specify the details, thus, it's up to the DM. If you are the DM, feel free to ignore any rule you think is not reasonable in this particular situation. The rules is your tool, not vice versa.

If you are a player, and your DM asks you to roll with disadvantage, feel free to ask "why". A good DM always goes with in-world explanation. If your DM isn't that good, give them a feedback. In the end of the day, it is your choice not to play with that DM.

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RAW, according to my table's rules-lawyer, says Yes.

RAI, I suspect not.

The "isn't incapacitated" clause implies either a) the nearby foe takes action to disrupt your attack, or b) your awareness of the nearby non-incapacitated foe disrupts your attention sufficiently to impose disadvantage.

If neither is occurring, then there is no reason for disadvantage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your final answer is correct, so I don't know why you start by talking about "RAW". \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Sep 24 '18 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells: Well, there's nothing in the rules specifying that there is no disadvantage if the enemy is hidden and invisible. The rule simply says: "When you make a ranged attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn't incapacitated." So Erics is correct that by the rules as written, you do still impose disadvantage regardless of how much you choose to distract the enemy or actively interfere. What the intent is or what makes more sense is distinct from that. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 24 '18 at 21:18
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Invisible Creatures Can Still grant cover, Still add disadvantage

Aiming a ranged attack is more difficult when a foe is next to you. When you make a ranged attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn't incapacitated.

RAW: If the invisible attacker is hostile it adds disadvantage to the shooters roll regardless of awareness. This is very effective with greater invisibility. If they are not hostile (not participating in combat and just standing there), then they do not impose disadvantage.

Hostility litmus test: If the situation were to present itself: could the invisible creature consider making an opportunity attack against the ranged shooter. If it can choose whether or not to make that attack, it is hostile.

In a fight, everyone is constantly watching for a chance to strike an enemy who is fleeing or passing by. Such a strike is called an opportunity attack. You can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach. To make the opportunity attack, you use your reaction to make one melee attack against the provoking creature. The attack occurs right before the creature leaves your reach.

If cannot, or isn't thinking about actively using opportunity attacks, then it's not hostile. (This is a rule of thumb / litmus test kind of approach to determine hostility, not actually a hard and fast rule).

Just standing there, or suffering an incapacitated condition such as sleeping would not impose disadvantage. So a sleeping indivisible creature within 5 feet of the shooter would not impose disadvantage.

Also note that the invisible attacker still grants cover and thus penalties for shooting either at or shots from the bowman in question. In the same way you have an invisible way block arrows, an invisible creature blocking line of sight would still grant cover for and against the ranged attacker.

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They can't impose disadvantage.

If there was something about an invisible person in front of you that made it harder to aim your ranged attack, then you'd know they're there. But you don't. Invisibility doesn't stop working just because you're within 5 feet of someone.

So the only effect they can have is deflecting your attack after you release it, which they could do by getting hit. In 5e there's generally not a chance to hit the wrong target with a ranged attack (no "shooting into melee" rule), but that's under the usual assumption that you'll try to avoid hitting them, and that only works if you can see them. A DM might rule that the invisible guy can get hit this way.

Aside from that case, though, the invisible person next to you should have no effect on your attack roll.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can know someone's there even if they're invisible. "Invisible" does not mean "hidden". The invisible enemy could, for instance, yell in your ear and distract you. The 5e rules don't exactly specify what about the hostile enemy being nearby gives you a disadvantage, and nothing in the rule specifies that the enemy must be visible to impose disadvantage. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 17 '18 at 5:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast the creature IS hidden. The OP said "I'm unaware of it". \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Sep 24 '18 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Additionally, "it doesn't make any attempt to make itself known". However, this may be a late addition to the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Sep 24 '18 at 16:12

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